KETCHIKAN – During the previous presidential administration, former First Lady Michelle Obama championed school nutrition, and the Department of Agriculture complied, tying school lunch funding to specific nutrition guidelines through the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act.
Michelle Obama became the patron saint of carrot sticks, and the bane of brownie bakers.
The rules implemented in school cafeterias in 2012 were supposed to improve nutrition and reduce obesity. They dictated everything from number of calories to grams of sugar and types of fat.
The 10 pages of federal guidelines, however, stepped on the toes of local control, and made it impossible, or at least impractical, to have bake sales on campus to support school activities.
The new policy became known as the “Obama war on cupcakes.”
This year, the Ketchikan Board of Education struck back. On Wednesday night, it cancelled the 10-page policy that had been given to the district by the feds in favor of a 2-paragraph set of guidelines that returned control of the food offerings to the superintendent and school principals.
“The role as a board is to set policy more on a broad level and incorporate into that policy a vision for the school district with regard to health and nutrition. It’s not our job to micromanage how that is done. There’s a difference between governance and management,” said Trevor Shaw, the 22-year-old president of the Ketchikan Board of Education.
Board member Glen Brown expressed the need for the board to stick a fork in the debate and vote: “I think we’ve absolutely murdered this issue. This has been the summer of Policy 50-40,” he said, referring to the months-long debate over the substitute school district health and wellness policy, which the body finally adopted 4-1, with two members absent.
The result of the Obama-era Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act was a lot of unhappy students across the country, who resisted the meager portions and flavorless offerings. The standards extended to vending machine snacks and baked items sold during fundraisers for teams and clubs.
The new two-paragraph policy is backed by 10 pages of locally written administrative directives to limit the marketing of unhealthy food and beverages, to support Alaska farm and fish on school menus when possible, and to encourage greater physical activity.
“We made the decision that just because the federal bureaucracy says this is what you need to do to get funds, we are going to do what we do locally that is best for our school district,” Shaw said.
With all the skirmishes over cupcakes and carrot cakes that have taken up the time of school boards across the country, Shaw said that Ketchikan’s patience in taking the long view in the fight for local control finally paid off.
“We kind of won the cupcake war,” he said.